Thanksgiving (Erntedankfest)

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Main Page > All about Germany > German tradition > Thanksgiving (Erntedankfest)


Since the Reformation the 29th of September has been considered the end of the harvest season, and Erntedankfest with a special church service is celebrated on the first Sunday of October. Beautiful displays, typically of colorful fruit and vegetables as well as grains and breads, are set up before the altar as symbols of gratitude to God. Afterwards all the produce may be donated to the needy. Especially in rural areas, the end of the harvest is cause for a big celebration. In America it is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. It commemorates the Pilgrim's Thanksgiving to the Almighty for the land and for a plentiful harvest. They celebrated it with the Indians and thus it is a celebration of brotherhood, where different kinds of people are breaking bread together. It is a national holiday and coincides with the opening of the winter holiday season. President Franklin Roosevelt discerned Christmas' economic potential as a counter-cyclical celebration and attempted to move Thanksgiving from the last Thursday to the third Thursday in November in order to get Christmas shopping going sooner. Harvest celebrations were held in the Old World long before the days of our pilgrim forefathers. "Erntefests" are thanksgiving celebrations for the harvest of locally grown produce, ranging from grapes to grain. They are great community affairs and many have their origin in pagan rituals. They are traditionally celebrated in early October, on the Sunday after the full moon that occurs nearest to the autumnal equinox. In America that moon is known as "Harvest Moon." Through the centuries, villages all over Germany have marked the end of this period of backbreaking work with mirthful festivals that include dances, parades, games, banquets and pageants. They vary from region to region--also by name--depending on the time and type of harvest. In the wine growing areas the "Winzer Fest" is celebrated with cider, new and old wine, food, and dancing, when the last grapes have been picked. In the Alpine regions grain is brought into barns on big wagons, pulled by decorated oxen. On top of the wagons may be sheaves of grain, bound in the form of a figure, animal or human. The last sheaves are left on the fields so that the next harvest may be plentiful and for animals to glean. In some places these traditions still survive even though modern machinery has hastened the process of bringing in the crops. A harvest is reason to celebrate in tents, with music and dancing, food and drink. In Germany the "Erntedanktag" (literally "Harvest-Thanksgiving-Day") is an official holiday. Harvest Festivals (Erntefests) are celebrated in churches and market places, in homes and dance halls While the German-speaking countries also observe the principle of separation of church and state "politically", public displays of religious holiday traditions are a part of the local culture, and are as accepted as they are expected and enjoyed by the whole community.

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